The Draft – the next most important event in the NBA after the Finals – took place on June 23rd in Brooklyn.
The rookie class of 2022 is strong, perhaps the strongest in several years: a few guys with obvious superstar potential, a few with just star potential, and a few with elite role player potential.
Even though this year’s draft was fairly unpredictable, there was a definite consensus among scouts and observers more than six months ago about the top three players – they are considered Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banquero – 3 very unlikeable players playing the same position (heavy forward – big). Their position in the big boards and mock drafts changed over time, but they consistently remained in the top 3.
When the order of the picking teams became known, give or take, all draft analysts lined up this trio: Smith goes first to Orlando, Chet to Oklahoma, and Paolo to Houston. The paradox is that despite such a clear allocation in all mock drafts, no one can definitively tell which of the trio of forwards is the best prospect and which is the worst. All observers have their preferences, but everyone understands that any player can be the best in the top 3. The essay writers researched these basketball players to understand the potential of these basketball players.
A dimensional workman forward with elite shooting and versatile defense
No one talked much about Smith, unlike Holmgren or Banquero, until a year ago, but the guy worked hard as the season went on and promptly broke into the top of the Draft. Now he has the best chance of leaving under the No. 1 pick.
Jabari is often compared to Rasheed Wallace, one of the best heavy forwards in history. A more modern comparison is Michael Porter, with defense and no back issues.
Smith’s game has no major flaws yet has pronounced elite-level skills – primarily shooting and defense. Jabari piled up 44% from beyond the arc throughout the season on large sample size, throwing from receiving and driving. Because he combines size, jumping ability, and technique, it’s extremely difficult for defenders to make it difficult for him to shoot, meaning if he wants to shoot, he will, and in that regard, he’s a lot like Durant or Porter.
I wouldn’t say Smith can already be considered a terrific defender, but the potential is cosmic. The dude combines size (he’s 6’10”), a powerful frame, mobility in his legs, active hands, diligence, and energy – this set allows him to play against players at any position. That’s why his size and versatility, the things the league values most right now, make him one of the most promising young guards in the NBA.
Some might ask, “So this is just an elite 3&D player?”
Not really – Jabari can play with the ball in his hands, has the passing game, and can create his shot, but he’s still pretty limited in that role – which is considered his main weakness. No one understands how good he can be as a first star with the ball in his hands, but what matters:
He’s going to be a classy second option anyway. There are no red flags in his game – no game elements that he couldn’t do at all or in which he would be woefully bad — he just plays more of a shooter role for now.
Seven-footer, an elite rim protector with quick feet on defense and hand skills on offense
Chet is a unicorn, which is what makes him unique and, at the same time intimidating in his uncertainty.
He is a huge skinny kid who resembles Kevin Durant’s size but has played big his entire career. His offensive arsenal is huge: He shoots 41% from three, can carry the ball, assists, plays well off the ball, and is elite in the paint – almost 80%.
He can shut down the paint in his half, but he can also go to the perimeter, which is why many have nicknamed him the tricked-out version of Gobert on defense. In my opinion, he has yet to earn that title, but it is a good reflection of his skill-set as a defender – he is a combination of a classic and modern, versatile big-man who can get on the perimeter and guard. The closest comparison for me in this regard is Evan Mobley.
Hence all the questions that follow: how will he play a full-fledged big, chopping on rebounds, pushing against Embiid, and all that? The questions are logical, but Chet’s weight problem is slightly overblown. First, he shouldn’t be playing center from his first season – the example of Mobley, who was out at the four next to Allen this past season, is a perfect reflection of how to engage such players early in their careers before they gain mass and experience. Second, Holmgren is much stronger than he looks. Visually he looks like he should be able to bounce back from any contact in the paint, but that’s not the case – Chet always fights back and uses his long arms and agile legs to his advantage, and he’s a fighter.
The more serious question is how long his career will be because Holmgren is still a thin semi-fighter with long thin legs, and such guys often get injured. Chet hasn’t had any serious problems so far in his career in that regard, but it’s hard to be sure about his future.
A powerful forward with first-star potential
While Smith and Holmgren played more without the ball in college, Paolo at Duke was a typical alpha, running the team’s offense.
Over the year, Banquero underwent a positional transformation from a power forward to a more typical third man, both in playmaking and size (he lost a noticeable amount of weight). So while comparisons to Julius Randle were valid before, Paolo is now moving somewhere in the direction of Jason Tatum, a versatile point-forward, and that makes him a noticeable prospect.
Banquero grew up playing point guard, hence his ball-handling skills – he sees the court well, moves the team’s offense, and can create for himself and his partners.
He shoots from both the rush and the receiving end, and he’s fairly confident, but he’s not very stable yet, at only 32% from beyond the arc.
A great bonus to his arsenal is his post-game skills. He’s adept at finding his moments for easy throws from the paint, thanks to clear footwork, skills, and a powerful body.
It paints a picture of an almost perfect player, but that’s not quite true.
I would say that Paolo’s main problem offensively is his lack of elite athleticism. His speed, jumping, and mobility are good enough, but not too much. Some might think this claim isn’t worth the attention when the guy has so much skill, but I think it’s a really important factor for a forward player with first-star potential. Think of any top forward, from LeBron to Tatum. They’re all distinguished by prohibitive athleticism. If you don’t have that, you’re in danger of becoming something like Julius Randle.
I’m not saying that in Banquero’s case, his physique is some kind of a verdict. He may get better at it over the years. Even if he doesn’t, he’ll still have a chance to be a great first option. But comparisons to LeBron and the “most promising young forward in the league” regalia are premature.
Another, more pronounced flaw in Paolo’s game is his defense. He lacks the size to play big and the footwork to make easy exchanges on the perimeter. And at the same time, he doesn’t try to compensate in any way for that with his effort. In that regard, Banquero is a typical first-team college star who can quietly rest on his half, waiting for the transition of possession.
It has led to a situation where Paolo, the only player in the top 3 of the Draft with pronounced first-option potential, goes in at #3 in almost all of the mocks, losing the competition to Smith and Holmgren.